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WENATCHEE, Wash. – The U.S. Forest Service reported a nationwide wildland firefighter shortage this year, but new recruits could soon help fill the gap.
The next group of firefighters is training at the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest in Washington state.
“We have to be flexible and adapt to an ever-changing situation,” said wildland firefighter trainee Lucyanna Labadie. “And kind of be ready to move.”
Labadie and her team will be ready to go anywhere in the country to fight wildfires once they’re qualified. However, making it through training is tough.
“You’re out there working really long days,” Labadie said. “All kinds of adverse conditions.”
Finding people to train might be even harder.
“There’s a national hiring effort to help increase our firefighters,” said Mike Davis with the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest.
Davis has helped find new wildland firefighters each year. This year has been tough for him to recruit.
“We’ll start at the local schools, here at the high schools, trying to recruit our entry-level positions,” Davis said.
Training to be a wildland firefighter can be a tough sell.
“Going into this season, I did not have housing offered to me as part of this position,” Labadie said. “The nearest towns that do or may offer housing are either a pretty far commute or have pretty steep rates.”
The housing situation is part of the reason Davis has had to look everywhere to try to find enough people.
“It’s a pretty hard job,” Davis said. “Especially when we talk about a fast-food chain that you can get paid $15 an hour.”
There were almost 60,000 wildfires in the U.S. each of the last two years. Labadie said she hoped enough people will join her in the fight to protect property and save lives.
“It’s kind of an ongoing, uphill climb that we’re facing,” Labadie said.